How to Rest Smoked Turkey [Resting Times & Techniques]


Resting your smoked turkey is the best way to guarantee the tender and juicy barbecue meat we all love. From foil wrapping to resting times, discover how to rest smoked turkey today.

bbq smoked turkey resting guide

A whole turkey is the centerpiece of any family dinner or holiday platter, so it’s crucial that you nail every step of the process to deliver the best possible smoked turkey. One often overlooked step of the process is resting your turkey before carving to serve.

Learn why smoked turkey needs to rest and how to do it right, including how long to let turkey rest and whether to do it covered or uncovered. Let’s get cooking.

smoked turkey resting

Resting Smoked Turkey: Explained

Resting turkey before serving helps preserve the meat’s juices and texture, giving you beautifully tender smoked turkey. While many people overlook resting meat before serving, it’s an integral part of the cooking process.

When you let your turkey rest before serving, you will find that the meat is much juicier, even the white meat, which is often the most difficult to smoke without overcooking. Resting the turkey also improves the meat’s texture and tenderness, allowing the authentic flavor to come through.

The science of allowing the meat to rest is simple: The proteins within the meat uncoil during the cooking process, then coagulate and recoil. This causes the proteins within to become firm, pushing out the moisture inside their cell walls.

To preserve that moisture and lock it inside the meat, you’ll want to allow it to rest. When resting meat all the juices trying to work their way out of it can be reabsorbed. Instead of losing these flavorful juices to the cutting board, they are locked back into the meat, delivering a juicy piece of meat that’s loaded with flavor.

Resting is especially important with larger meats, like whole turkey. Some dismiss the process, but give it that extra half an hour and the results will be well worth it. It could be the difference between beautifully juicy turkey and a mushy mess.

barbecue smoked turkey resting

How to Rest Smoked Turkey

Resting a smoked turkey is easy as long as you know the basics and have patience:

  1. Once the thickest part of the meat hits 160°F (71°C), remove (or ‘pull’) the turkey from the smoker. Use a digital meat thermometer for an accurate reading.
  2. Place the turkey on a wooden chopping block or shallow aluminum pan (like this pan on Amazon). Ensure it’s placed breast-side down to help the moisture absorb into the breast meat.
  3. Leave the turkey uncovered to preserve its crispy skin, and allow to rest for 20-40 minutes
  4. After resting, carve and serve immediately

If you need more time before serving, you can rest your turkey covered in aluminum foil. This will extend resting time by slowing the drop-off in temperature, however the moisture within the foil wrapping will stop the turkey skin remaining crispy.

To cover the turkey, wrap it in aluminum foil, then with clean dishtowels, and place in a dry cooler (or faux cambro). You can rest the turkey for up to 2 hours without the temperature dropping below 140°F (60°C).

How Long to Let Turkey Rest

You should rest turkey for at least 20 minutes, and up to 40 minutes for large whole turkeys.

The longer you let your smoked turkey rest, the more moist and tender the meat. This is when the juices will redistribute in the turkey. If you cut into it immediately, these juices will end up on your cutting board and the meat will lose its texture and flavor.

Should I Cover Turkey When Resting?

We recommend not covering turkey as it rests in order to help maintain its crispy skin. If you’re concerned about leaving meat uncovered for extended periods of time, you can cover it very loosely with an aluminum foil sheet.

When is Smoked Turkey Done?

Always go by temperature and not time. Smoke your turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) before removing it. Depending on the size of the bird, this should take about 4-6 hours. Bear in mind that the internal temperature will continue to rise as it rests, so you can pull the meat from the smoker when it’s about 5°F short of target temperature.

Use a digital meat thermometer to accurately measure the temperature, and don’t go by appearance or time. Also remember to take your reading at the thickest part of the meat to ensure that all of the bird is done and ready to eat.

About the Author

Ben Isham-Smith

A BBQ obsessive, Ben is behind 250+ of The Online Grill’s recipes, as well as countless barbecue guides to help barbecue newbies get to grips with the world’s best form of cooking.

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